Tag Archives: Nature

MEYER MONTH – ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas’ (1959) review by Jonathan Henderson

13 Sep

Lets be honest, I spend a lot of hours surfing the web for anything Russ Meyer related, sifting through the good, the bad, and the wierd. During some model investigating (which I hope to share soon) I stumbled across this great review of Meyer’s first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas which I had to share. Written by Jonathan Henderson, the original link can be viewed here, but I’ve also copied it below.

The Immoral Mr. Teas might not be the first film title that comes to mind when the name Russ Meyer is mentioned, but it may have been the most important in his career and, indeed, the most important for the genres in which he’d spend most of his career working in. Released in 1959 with a budget of just $24,000, Mr. Teas eventually grossed $1.5 million, which helped to finance Meyer’s subsequent films outside of the help of the major studios. But it was also a watershed (on a relative level) in the world of film as it was the first film to unapologetically feature nudity in a film that wasn’t completely underground and pornographic, or under the guise of a “naturist/nudist” film. It essentially opened up the floodgates for what would become sexploitation, but Mr. Teas itself seems harmless by today’s standards.

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Its relative tameness perhaps has to do with the fact that it’s less sexploitation and more “nudie cutie”, which exchanged actual sex for simple nude eye candy. Mr. Teas is likely typical of such a film; it stars Bill Teas as Mr. Teas, a door-to-door dental supply salesman who’s frustrated by the drudgery of his daily life. During his day, Mr. Teas encounters three hot women: a Coffeeshop Waitress (Ann Peters), a Dental Assistant (Marilyn Wesley), a Secretary (Michelle Roberts), a girl on a beach (Dawn Danielle), and a Burlesque Dancer (Don Cochran). As his day wears on, Mr. Teas begins fantasizing about the women, seeing them in various situations unclothed. Fearing that something might be “wrong” with him, he goes to a Psychiatrist (Mikki France) who is quite hot herself.

If this doesn’t sound like much of a plot… well, who am I kidding? It’s not. But—and perhaps it sounds odd to say this—there is a peculiar charm to the film. Meyer doesn’t even attempt to present a dramatic narrative; instead, the film is shot with a narrating voiceover (Edward Lasko) and a revolving jukebox of jazzy music numbers (a mid-tempo march, a sexy sax refrain, and a few up-tempo pieces) that accompany the images as if it was a silent film. In truth, the film plays out like what would happen if Jacques Tati shot a nudie cutie; the film even has Tati’s sense of social satire. But while Tati was purely visual in his parodying of modern grossness and confusion, Meyer uses the voiceover which mimics the “informational” voiceovers in the exploitation films at the time that tried to preach a moral by presenting the “dark side” of what certain actions lead to.

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But there’s also a certain innocent joy in the film’s appreciation of the female form. Perhaps the most successful scene in the film doesn’t even feature nudity, but has Mr. Teas attempting to go fishing at the local beach when he spots the “Beach Beauty” who seems insistent on taking off her top. But this is probably where the homophonic “Teas” (as “tease”) comes into play as Meyer’s camera never actually catches the woman naked. Perhaps the most extraordinary bit in the sequence has the “Beach Beauty” playing in the ocean as the tide rolls in; there is a definite but intangible beauty to the scene. It almost brought to mind those first few moments when I became unconsciously aware of the female form. It’s hard to call such a scene “exploitation” because there’s no sense of the woman being exploited. Rather, this is Meyer taking in the beauty of nature no differently than if someone were to film a sunset.

While not every scene has that level of (dare I say) aesthetic grace, Meyer keeps it light, comical, and satirical enough that it would be hard for even the most rigorous Puritan—Ok, maybe a moderate Puritan—to ever feel ashamed. It’s perhaps telling, though, that Meyer never actually shows his gallery of busty beauties naked in reality, but rather only in the imagination of Mr. Teas. The film also takes its time (relative to its already short 63 minutes) before it even gets to the nudity. This allows the majority of the first 2/3 to play out as a comedic satire of both modern society, and the types of exploitation films that preceded Mr. Teas. The absurd voiceover certainly has its genuinely hilarious moments as it plays counterpoint to the witless Mr. Teas.

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For all its pleasantries, the film is far from perfect; even at a slim 63 minutes it feels a bit repetitive and “light”. The constant musical accompaniment eventually goes from humorous to annoying (though, thankfully, it’s never egregiously so), and Bill Teas himself seems a particularly unappealing “hero” for the film. I don’t know, there’s something about him that just doesn’t make him a sympathetic everyman. Meyer may do everything he can to frame the film like a Tati, but Bill Teas utterly lacks Tati’s carefully measured, but seemingly effortless, physical gifts for comedy and his innate charm. If anything, he makes the film appear much sleazier than it is. Meyer does just about everything he can, but he’s yet to develop his cinematic talents that will serve him much better in his later films.

Even with the complaints, this is still an interesting film from a historical standpoint, and a rather enjoyable film in-and-of itself. It’s certainly not superb from any angle, but it’s undeniable that the film has more substance and quality than the vast majority of its ilk.

MEYER MONTH – ‘This Is My Body’ (1959)

9 Mar

I’d read about it and seen some stills that Russ Meyer had shot on set but never thought that I might actually see This Is My Body, a ten minute short shot in 1959 by the director. Out of circulation since its original 1960 theatrical release, the short featuring model Diane Webber was never re-released and one part of Meyer’s early career that many people (including the man himself) thought would never again see the light of day. That was until late last year when the Russ Meyer Trust announced the release of a DVD set that featured his early films that had never been released before.

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As part of the Vintage Bodies set, This Is My Body stands out as a beautiful example of Meyer’s early career as a pin-up photographer transcending perfectly from static shots to moving image work. The only time the director ever used sepia film stock, the short benefits largely from its subject Webber. Webber and Meyer had worked together before over the later half of the 1950s, with the latter’s photographs of the former being among some of the best in his career. Meyer shot Webber’s spread when she was Playboy Playmate of the Month in February 1956, looking very curvaceous thanks to her secret early pregnancy. Never one to shy away from being honest, Meyer later moaned that her body was never the same after childbirth and pulled This Is My Body from circulation completely using the postpartum excuse.

Not seen for over fifty years by the pubic, the short definitely isn’t a ‘must-see’ for Meyer fans. It provides no further illumination on his career and as a short with no plot will doubtless be very boring for some viewers (it is essentially Diane Webber sunbathing). But for completists and fans of his nudie-cutie or photography work, the ten minute delight really is a lucky joy to watch considering the Estate’s previous reluctance to shed any light on his early career. Whilst the DVD set it is included in notes that it is digitally restored, it’s unknown whether it is a restoration of an old  existing transfer that Meyer made himself in the past or a direct transfer from an original print (one doesn’t know how many or what original prints the Estate still has left in usable condition, rumours have circulated in the past that things aren’t best looked after). For ten minutes it packs a lot of traits that would eventually recur throughout the rest of the directors filmography; lush natural settings (think gorgeous wood/stream settings  like those in Vixen! and Up!) and an interior monologue of banal, superficial one-liners that can’t help but remind this viewer of Mondo Topless. But being one of Meyer’s biggest fans what more could I ask for? Just being able to watch it is exciting enough. Certainly not for  everyone but a lovely example of  how early on in his cinematic endeavours Meyer mastered his craft.

Tiny Dancer – Joseph W. Sarno’s ‘Baby Love’ aka ‘Confessions of a Sex Kitten’ (1974)

2 Jan

My continuing bad luck with Swedish softcore porno’s has seen me watch 1974’s Baby Love, aka Confessions of a Sex Kitten or Girl Meets Girl, which left me nothing short of bored and bemused. Bibi (Marie Forsa) is a young student staying with various lesbians for the summer and spends her time engaging in activities with a multitude of them.

Sadly whatever charm Bibi uses to keep everyone under her spell doesn’t extend to the viewing audience. Baby Love is bland and tedious, moving at the same languid pace for its entire duration. Not even a spot of branch spanking out in the woods can redeem it. Whilst there’s more action here than in Ann and Eve (mainly restricted to vibrators galore), baby Love is still a massive disappointment. Two out of five maximum, and that’s out of politeness…

‘Australia After Dark’ (1975) review

23 Aug
Like mondo-style documentaries? How about art culture and history? Socio-politics perhaps? What about a few nude and topless women? If you answered yes to a majority of those questions, then Ozsploitation classic Australia After Dark is a must see feature for you.

 Originally released in 1975, the film was heavily censored for the British public losing twelve minutes of running time, but now available uncut it is well worth seeking out. With an introduction to Australia that is very Meyeresque in both editing and writing, narrator Hayes Gordon shows us the dark side of the country, exclaiming that ‘it won’t all be beautiful – but its true!’.

And if it’s all true, its certainly interesting! Witness some beautiful shots of the Outback and Ayers Rock juxtaposed with a riverboat restaurant that serves deep-fried witchetty grub (wriggling first in the batter and then in the hot oil – gross!) and snake. Handily for viewers, it also gives you a recipe for cooking snake meat, you know, in case you ever want to try it… If that scene doesn’t bring your food up, the next one might – Madame Lashe’s boudoir. Sounds hot, but is actually a back street, S&M house party with overweight guests cavorting in bondage gear. A slightly cringe worthy scene but one that provides the best line of dialogue in the entire flick, ‘Look at that rack, you don’t see craftsmanship like that these days’. He’s talking about an MDF frame guys…

Sleaze aside, John D. Lamond‘s mondo-style doc follows standards set by Italian 1962 release Mondo Cane. Shot on location, Lamond really travels around Australia making sure we see the neon lit broadwalks of Kings Cross, the highly homosexually populated Perth (the films words, not mine) and Sydney, alongside Aborigine colonies in the Outback. Cue some genuinely interesting moments which explore the plight of Aborigines and their way of living (infant mortality, for instance, is a big problem).

 

Australia After Dark has a bit of a disjointed and manic tone to it which works although does feel somewhat flawed (moments of historical interest next to staged, terribly un-erotic scenes of foreplay). Having said that, it’s a fantastic piece of work which tries to encompass the country as a whole and certainly shows a slightly darker side to the land Down Under…

Sexuality & ‘Black Narcissus’

20 Jul

There is no denying that Powell and Pressburger’s classic feature Black Narcissus is seeping in underlying sexuality. Beneath the tale of a Convent struggling to cope in an isolated Himalayan community lies themes of repressed desire, controlled female sexuality and the power of primal instinct. Simmering with eroticism and visually stunning to watch, the film is a nuanced portrait on the power of human sexuality and it’s pressure within confined spaces.

Whilst the themes are prevalent in the character and storyline, the picture’s set design and cinematography heighten the subconscious. The run down palace in which the Convent set up their new school and dispensary is a blank canvas amidst a beautiful strange landscape, a bricks and mortar parallel to the virginal Nuns surrounded by an exotic unknown village brimming with experience. Just as the building eventually undergoes a transition from abandoned palace to busy school, so do the women of the Convent slowly become influenced by the building’s past as the home of the King’s women. An environment full of oestrogen, the physical presence of the two lead male characters builds more tension amongst the group of women then they could ever have imagined, their voluntary challenge to love and devote their life to one man, Christ, threatened by the natural human instinct they choose to try to suppress. It doesn’t matter how many curtains they cover the walls of the palace with, the sexual drawings of the past King’s wives and sexual positions of the karma sutra that they will never experience have permeated the skin of the Sisters like the ghost of a haunted house.

Take Sister Ruth. ‘Unwell’ when she arrives at the palace, her illness only gets worse the longer she stays, her sexual awakening overtaking her vows. Sick with passion, Sister Ruth is a transformation to watch, going from a sickly virgin to woman desperately ill with desire. I have never seen such acting before or since in a film such as Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth.  Her eyes display every emotion across the sexual scale; arousal, longing, jealousy. Her sexual breakdown and embracement against Sister Clodagh’s (Deborah Kerr) repressed sexuality and emotional sadness is a joy to watch. The extremities of the two female ideals (the virgin and the whore dichotomy) played out with heated intensity. Just how difficult is it to deny a feeling so natural and real and try to replace it with a cause based solely on a belief? Clearly the struggle is a great one, Sister Clodagh’s flashbacks showing a man she was in love with and to marry demonstrate a strong battle to repress that matches Sister Ruth’s battle against faith in full force.

The entrance of village girl Kanchi (June Simmons) also heightens sexual tension amongst the women, for here is a girl much younger than them who appears to be knowledgable in her sexuality just as the Nun’s are knowledgable in their Christian faith. She knows how to subtlely show off her wares, slowly infiltrating not only the mind of the Prince who eventually falls in love with but also Sister Ruth whose sexual immaturity finds her advances being rejected. Kanchi, with her colourful sari’s, flowers in her hair and facial piercings, slowly rubs off onto the Sisters, their robes eventually looking more off-white, occasionally stained with blood (a visual metaphor for menstruation and the awakening of their womanhood) and eventually the application of make up (the scarlet red of lipstick perfectly clashing against the paper-white skin of Sister Ruth like a warning sign). 

Ultimately, the film shows the struggle to deny something that’s constantly there. Just like the prevalent winds of the mountainous village, so does female sexuality haunt the occupants of the Convent, the most testing lesson that their faith could ever thrust upon them. Whether it be the sensuality that natures provides, the physical attraction of a prime male or the dangerous feelings the Sisters feel when they stand close to the edge of the mountain ringing the palace bell (the closest pictorial metaphor to an orgasm that the Nuns get, the wide-eyed expression looking down the mountain to the caverns below, heart pumping whilst continuing to tug away at the ropes to ring the schools bell), sexuality is a dark abyss that is easy to fall into. It doesn’t matter how much the Convent try to veil the problem, just as Dean’s attraction to the women is veiled behind a mask of dishonest denial, the feelings are so inescapable that they have to leave the village completely. Escapable? Perhaps. Unforgettable? No chance.

About Sex, But Not – ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’ (1954)

30 May

ON THE SURFACE – The ‘Gill-Man’ creature of the Black Lagoon struggles to cope with a group of scientists surveying his habitat.

SCRAPING THE BARREL – A young boy in his bedroom struggles to cope with puberty. Don’t hate me for tarnishing a horror classic when it’s all there in front of you already. Creature from the Black Lagoon is all about a young boy (the ‘Gill-Man’) trying to get used to all the changes going on around him thanks to our good friend puberty. A young boy, ugly and ‘half-formed’, discovering (finally noticing the female form) and falling in love with a beautiful woman (Julie Adams)? Check. Jealousy and angst (trying to kill) from the boy towards the more ‘manly’, handsome and properly developed men that the woman is attracted to? Check. A young man desperate to actually touch some boobs? Just look at the way the Creature holds his arms out towards them, hyperventilating and dribbling like a loon! Black Lagoon is the ultimate masturbation fantasy movie, a film in which the young male audience can sympathise with ‘Gill-Man’s desire to be the ugly duckling that the beautiful woman finally falls for. Those beautiful underwater sequences focusing on Adams are so dreamlike and desirable, fetishising her legs and curves (the only woman in the whole film, just like when you fancy that one person so much that you end up not noticing anyone else…), that anyone would be a fool not to try reaching out and grabbing her, just like the Creature does on numerous occasions. At the end of the day, he’s only following example. The rest of the men in the film can’t leave their guns and spears alone (do I really need to spell that one out to you…) and they pop up every time Adams is in danger or needs protecting. The more experienced penis wins over the one that’s only just began to grow. The poor Creature. Just like many young boys, he didn’t know how to handle a beautiful woman, just himself.

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer’s ‘The Immoral Mr. Teas’ (1959)

2 Mar

Who would have thought that the advent of modern-day pornography, the exploitation of the female form and the first instance of really using women in film as sexual objects would arise from a little live-action cartoon-esque sex picture called The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)? Before the release of director Russ Meyer’s first feature, extensive nudity in film was only seen in underground pornography (which had to be covertly produced and distributed, usually illegally) or in naturist pictures, where nudity was allowed under the guise of naturist films being documentaries on nudist camps and, therefore, somewhat legitimately educational. Meyer broke boundaries by making Mr. Teas the first film since early Pre-Code sound pictures to feature nudity without the pretext of naturism. Arguably the first popular and successful film of its kind, it went on to start the short-lived nudie-cutie genre and kick-started the sexploitation genre which Meyer would dominate throughout the 1960s.

The Immoral Mr. Teas is an incredibly simple picture. Mr. Teas (played by Meyer’s combat buddy Bill Teas, an alcoholic who was drunk for most of the shoot) is your average American Joe living life in suburbia. Practically ignored by everyone, Teas delivers false teeth as a job and spends most of his time eyeing up the women around  town. After having an injection of painkillers for a tooth extraction, Teas starts seeing women everywhere topless, even when the injection has worn off. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Padding out the rest of the cast are a bevy of beautiful ladies; a mixture of pin-up models and burlesque dancers that both Meyer and producer Pete DeCenzie knew and a few bought in from elsewhere. The cherry on top of the casting ice cream is the gorgeous model June Wilkinson whom Meyer knew from his photographic career. Don’t remember seeing her name in the credits? That’s because she gave Meyer an uncredited cameo… Of her breasts only.

Unsurprisingly, Meyer had difficulties when trying to distribute the film upon its completion (ten years later he would encounter more legal problems when trying to distribute Vixen!). Simply put, there had never been a film like Mr. Teas before and theatre owners were scared to show it. When the film eventually had its premiere in San Diego in 1959 it was shut down by the police only twenty minutes in. Rumour has it that DeCenzie hadn’t paid the local authorities the necessary bribe and it would be a year before him and Meyer would get the print back.

Meyer needn’t have worried at the time. The Immoral Mr. Teas was hugely successful. Re-opening in Seattle in 1960, the film played for nine months. It ran for three years in Los Angeles. Made on a budget of $24,000, the film made between an estimated $1 and $3 million. Fourteen years after it was first released, it was still making money through theatrical bookings despite more explicit films being shown in cinemas and a far greater increase in sexuality and nudity being depicted in western cinema. The picture itself spawned over 150 imitations.

Watching it now, Mr. Teas feels very innocent, almost to the point of wondering what all the fuss was about. But for 1959, Meyer was teetering on the edge of what was considered legal to show in theatres. Even filming on Kodak Eastman stock was potentially a problem for production as Kodak could refuse to develop the negatives if they deemed the content obscene in any way. Its slight innocence aside, the film is all about the art of the tease and tease it certainly does. The picture is only sixty-two minutes long and the audience has to wait a full twenty-eight minutes before seeing any hint of the nude female form. Drawing from his photographic career, Meyer successfully keeps the tease up (excuse the pun) and going for the whole feature’s duration, each woman staying attractively untouched, poised on the moment of perfection until the very end. The isn’t just a film about Mr. Teas’s naughty daydreams, they also belong to the audience and the relationship between the female models and the viewers is held throughout by the distinct lack of physical contact between Teas and any of the women. In fact he seems almost terrified of what they might do to him, at one point jumping into a river to escape being near a topless sunbather.

What’s so telling about The Immoral Mr. Teas is the number of Meyer hallmarks that are abundant in it, foreshadowing future films and sequences from his later career. It’s opening montage of cars, nature and cities would be an effect used again and again (no doubt an influence from his early career doing industrial films), most notably in Mondo Topless  (1966) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), whilst the innuendo filled and often irrelevant narration used crops up in at least another five of his features. What is incredibly obvious in Mr. Teas and didn’t change at all throughout the rest of his career is Meyer’s natural ability to make any woman look beautiful through his lens. A talented photographer for over a decade before moving into film, Mr. Teas has often been described as a’year’s subscription to Playboy’, a moving image version of a themed photo shoot.

The only sad irony about The Immoral Mr. Teas is that the world it helped to create, Meyer found himself no longer a part of by the mid 1970s. Whilst the film birthed the beginnings of the adult film industry and helped to unleash sexual freedom on the big screen, Meyer found himself left on the sidelines when his lack of interest in including hardcore shots and the sex act itself meant that his films became overshadowed by pictures likeDeep Throat(1972). Still, I bet he never thought that a quaint little film about a man in a straw hat would be the catalyst to begin it all…